Black Sox ease to victory over Japan
Home runs to Nathan Nukunuku and Brad Rona highlighted the Black Sox’s 7-2 win over Japan today as their drive for six world championship gold medals hit top gear.
Both men struck two-run blasts at Rosedale Park in Albany to show the Black Sox will be hard to beat as they seek to wrest back their International Softball Federation title from Australia.
Coach Eddie Kohlhase’s team had been held to two hits by lowly Colombia but they went berserk with nine hits against the Japanese pitchers.
Nukunuku’s supporters were wearing special Nuk Minit-shirts but even they couldn’t have forecast his fireworks.
The Auckland infielder was initially omitted from the Black Sox’s world championship squad but was recalled last week as injury cover.
Coach Eddie Kohlhase will be pleased he had a change of heart - because Nukunuku slammed a two-run home run over the right-centrefield fence at Rosedale Park to cap a big second inning for the Black Sox.
The Kiwis trailed 1-0 when starting pitcher Nik Hayes hit batters with two consecutive pitches to walk in a run to Jun Taniguchi in the top of the second.
The Hutt Valley right-hander had struck out four of the first five hitters he faced before losing his control and was replaced by southpaw Heinie Shannon after conceding the run.
But the Black Sox applied plenty of heat in the bottom of the second and the normally immaculate Japanese defence crumbled under the pressure. Ben Enoka and Jarrad Martin made base on fielders’ choices to give New Zealand runners at second and third.
But Patrick Shannon was struck out going for the fence instead of a RBI fly ball to make it two-down.
Up stepped Thomas Makea, a veteran of world championships campaigns. The Wellington outfielder used all his experience to set up his pitch and tag a slower, change-up delivery to the left-centrefield fence to bat in two runs.
Makea was held at second base on a blocked ball call when the ball became trapped in an advertising hoarding.
It was the 38-year-old’s second extra-base hit of the tournament.
Number nine batter Travis Bartorillo beat the Japanese at their own game, beating the ball to first base to swipe an infield single.
Next came Nuk’s Minute. Japan’s Hikaru Matsuda let a pitch stray into Nukunuku’s power zone - and the Black Sox second baseman’s timing was perfect as he stroked it over the fence,.
Japan pulled back a run in the top of the third through Tadaaki Saeki and New Zealand were forced to make another pitching change when Heinie Shannon hobbled off with a leg injury.
Jeremy Manley, who has had recent knee surgery, warmed to his task as the Kiwi closer, showing impressive control.
Rona - the only North Harbour player in the Black Sox - had his home crowd on their feet in the fifth inning when he monstered a home run over the leftfield fence to also score Donny Hale.